Sunday, February 26, 2012

Icers split at Notre Dame, earn first-round bye (w/ highlights)

(Friday box score here, Saturday box score here)

Heading into the weekend, the MSU hockey team had surprised many in Tom Anastos' first season, but its position in the CCHA standings was still very much in doubt.

After splitting with Notre Dame in South Bend (losing 2-0 Friday and winning 4-2 Saturday), the Spartans earned a first-round bye in the CCHA Tournament, finishing fifth in the standings. However, MSU will have to travel to Miami (Ohio) in the quarterfinals.

With the regular season officially in the books, MSU defenseman Torey Krug became the fifth Spartan to win the CCHA scoring title, and the first MSU defenseman.

On Friday, the Irish showed why they were the preseason No. 1 team, carrying the play for much of the night. Notre Dame score 2:31 into the second period, and an insurance goal in the third period sealed the Spartans' fate. It was just the second time this season that MSU had been shut out, coming at one of the worst possible times. Anastos was not happy with the Spartans as evidence by his postgame quotes.

However, because of other games in the CCHA, the Spartans were guaranteed a top-five finish in the CCHA. But they no longer controlled their fate, as Miami jumped ahead of MSU.

Saturday didn't start out much better for MSU. In a 1-1 game, the Irish picked up a loose puck and took it in for a breakaway shorthanded goal midway through the second period. But Chris Forfar answered with a shorthanded goal for MSU with three minutes left in the period after a good play by Anthony Hayes. After that goal, the momentum for the game changed. Krug scored two minutes later and MSU had a surprising 3-2 lead after two. Dean Chelios scored midway through the third and the defense held on for a 4-2 win.

It was MSU's first win in South Bend since 2006, breaking an 11-game winless streak.

While the Spartans' fifth-place finish had been determined while MSU was still playing, the game still mattered for MSU's NCAA tournament at-large hopes. As of Saturday night, MSU was tied for 11th in the PairWise rankings. A sweep would have been a killer.

MSU's penalty kill did give up two goals on the weekend, but Will Yanakeff was solid in net both nights, making 57 saves on 61 shots.

So the Spartans get next weekend off, before traveling to Miami for a three-game series the following weekend. It's too close to say if MSU needs to win the series to make the NCAA tournament. But considering no current Spartan has made it to Joe Louis Arena for the CCHA semifinals/championship, that's obviously the No. 1 goal. If you win the CCHA tournament, you're guaranteed a spot. How about that?

Miami started the season ranked No. 2, but struggled out of the gate. However, the RedHawks have righted the ship, and will enter this series with MSU on a six-game winning streak. Miami currently is 8th in the PairWise rankings.

MSU opened 2012 against the RedHawks, getting swept at Munn Ice Arena by a 2-1 (overtime) and 4-0 scores. The second loss was probably the worst of the season for MSU. The Spartans' last series in Oxford game in 2009, where MSU split the two games.

Krug became the first Spartan to win the CCHA scoring title since Shawn Horcoff in 2000. The other Spartans to win the title include Craig Simpson (1985), Kip Miller (1989, 90) and Bryan Smolinski (1993).

Krug finished with 11 goals and 18 assists for 29 points in CCHA play. He splits the title with Notre Dame forward T.J. Tynan.

It's quite an accomplishment for Krug, who said he wanted to show he could be a defensive defenseman this season. His bid for All-America honors is looking good right now. With one year of eligibility remaining, Krug is proving to be one of the best defenseman in MSU's storied history.

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